The Airplane Laptop Ban: Everything You Need to Know

The Airplane Laptop Ban: Everything You Need to Know

By Paula Hock

You’ve probably seen a variety of news headlines and articles on the laptop ban and still wondered: What is it really about? What are the motivations behind it? How will it affect me the next time I travel and what will this mean for airplane travel moving forward?

If you are looking for the 101 on the latest laptop flight ban, you’ve come to the right place.

The Airplane Ban Facts:

Earlier this year, the U.S. and the U.K. banned passengers flying from certain parts of the Middle East and North Africa from carrying laptops, tablets, and other large electronics in the airplane cabin. Amid concerns of terrorist groups targeting passenger planes, the laptop ban required airlines to prevent passengers flying from included countries from bringing any electronic larger than a smartphone on board. Instead, they must be in checked baggage to fly in the cargo hold.

The U.S. laptop ban covers 10 airports including the following:

  • Cairo, Egypt
  • Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Doha, Qatar
  • Amman, Jordan
  • Kuwait City
  • Casablanca, Morocco
  • Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The UK ban covers all inbound flights from Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia, but omits several major airports (like Dubai and Abu Dhabi). The bans from the U.S. and the UK affect nine and 14 airlines, respectively.

Devices restricted by the ban include laptops, cameras, tablets, e-readers, portable DVD players, electronic gaming devices, and travel printers or scanners. An exception is being made, though, for any medical devices needed on board.

Motivations Behind The Laptop Ban:

As mentioned above, there is growing concern that terrorist groups will target passenger aircrafts by smuggling explosive devices in large electronics. Government officials have stated that they are not aware of any specific plots on the horizon, but the U.S. has been considering this type of ban for several years.

Intelligence has pointed toward work within terrorist groups to perfect techniques to hide explosives in batteries and battery compartments. It has also revealed increasing capabilities from al Qaeda, ISIS, and Al Shabaab.

Safety Concerns:

Not surprisingly, there is growing concern with the number of lithium-ion batteries expected to be stowed in cargo holds as the ban continues and may be expanded. In the last few months, several officials have warned of the risk of fires in cargo areas, and only last year, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization recommended banning the shipment of lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger planes. Some officials state, however, that electronics spread out among several passengers’ suitcases are a different environment than a palette of batteries packed tightly together.

The concern is a real one. Britain’s Royal Aeronautical Society estimated a single-aisle jet with 100 passengers (less than a typical commercial aircraft, which range between 150-250 passengers) might have as many as 500 batteries on board. With so many batteries on board, fire threats have spurred airlines to invest in flame retardant seat covers, carpets, and curtains, and even containment units for potential fires. PlaneGard makes one such unit, which is a case meant to contain the fire and smoke if a battery begins to malfunction.

Market Declines:

Security certainly isn’t the laptop ban’s only issue. Recent aviation industry profit numbers are showing significant dips in conjunction with increasing regulations. Emirates Airlines, one of the major carriers between the U.S. and the Middle East, reported a profit dip of 82% year-over-year.

In response, some airlines have scrambled to put stop-gap programs in place to give passengers loaner electronics for the duration of flights. Others have simply cut service to the U.S. and the UK as demand stumbles.

A Bleak Future:

The U.S. government appears to have no end in sight to the electronics ban, and in fact, is considering expansion of the ban on flights between Europe and the United States. However, as of May 12, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security had not made a decision on the expansion.

Passengers flying to the U.S. and the UK should get used to traveling with their large electronics in their checked baggage or travel without them, at least for the imminent future.

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